Gas Pump RobberA few weeks ago, two events occurred in my life that prompted me to join the fight against oppressive fuel costs. The first: I realized that I own a stock that trades at a rate lower than the per-gallon price of gas. (Okay, perhaps my stock-picking strategy is to blame here — and not OPEC — but every once in a while even an Existentialist like me finds someone other than self culpable.) The second: I helplessly stood by and witnessed the gas pump meter exceed $60 for the first time in my re-fueling life. At that point, I decided to take a stand.

But as much as I want to beat high-priced fuel, I’m not quite ready to trade in my gas guzzler for a Matchbox-sized car, BMX dirt bike, or pair of Nike Air Miler kicks just yet. Nor do I particularly like the idea of sitting on one of my co-worker’s lap as part of an over-sized carpool into the corporate office.

So what methods are available to people like me who want to save at the pump, but aren’t quite ready to make fundamental changes to their auto lifestyle? One good method that I recently started to use is gas station comparison shopping. I simply find the cheapest pump within a reasonable driving distance (typically half-mile radius) of my home or trip route. Since gas prices can vary as much as 20 to 30 cents (and even higher) within just a few blocks, gas station comparison shopping is a sure-way to save some cash each time you fill ‘r’ up, assuming that the drive doesn’t cost more than what you save on gas. To be sure that it doesn’t, I recommend using Bankrate gas savings calculator to perform the arithmetic for you.

So exactly how do you shop for cheap gas without making it a part-time job? Back in the old days, you had to call up or drive to every gas station. So it was a part-time job. Nowadays, websites like GasBuddy and GasPriceWatch make discovering the cheapest pump in your area an efficient and accurate task through the practice of crowdsourcing.

How GasBuddy Allows You to Find Low Gas Prices through Crowdsourcing

GasBuddy, which is by the far the most comprehensive gas station comparison shopping service, and the one that I recommend to you, is a crowd-updated website that collects real-time fuel prices from 750,000+ volunteer price spotters. Motivated by pride and a points system that can be exchanged for entry into contest drawings, these so-called “gas price spotters” send GasBuddy daily price updates (via email or text) from their local service stations. This continuous sharing of price data allows motorists across the U.S. and Canada to target the lowest-priced fuel in their area.

To search for cheap gas via GasBuddy, you do so from one of its 181 local gas price websites, usually with the URL of your area + gasprices.com. (For example, the URL for my area is VirginaGasPrices.com). These interconnected websites work together to help you answer the question: where’s the cheapest gas in my area?

9 Ways to Reduce Fuel Costs Using GasBuddy

For those of you unfamiliar, or simply unacquainted, with the GasBuddy website, here’s a rundown of nine useful tools and resources for reducing fuel costs that I found on the site.

  1. Map Gas Prices — This feature allows you to view gas prices directly on a map (for U.S. only) so you can visually identify the lowest-priced gas station in your area. The map is searchable by metro area, city, state, or zip code. The search function also allows you to filter gas stations by fuel type (regular, midgrade, premium, or diesel) and by time limit (in varying increments from 4 hours to 96 hours), meaning the number of hours since prices were last updated by gas spotters.

    Map Gas Prices Screenshot

    Map Gas Prices Screenshot

  2. Gas Price Temperature Maps — This feature allows you to view average gas prices around the U.S. or Canada at a glance. Areas (by county in the U.S. and census division in Canada) are color coded according to their average price for regular unleaded gasoline.

    Gas Price Temperature Map Screenshot

    Gas Price Temperature Map Screenshot

  3. Gas Prices by State/Province — Starting from a map view of the U.S. and Canada, you can select your respective state or province directly on the map and drill down until you arrive at a display of current gas prices in your particular area.
  4. Historical Price Charts — Six months ago, were you prepared for gas prices to eventually top $4.00 per gallon? I wasn’t. Unfortunately, we can’t rely on premonitions alone to help us prepare for future events. We can, however, examine historical trends to shed some light on what the future holds. Doing so allows us to prepare for the worst — such as orbital fuel prices — so were not caught off guard. (Unpreparedness is a productivity killer: in most cases, it only leads to a lot of wasted time, energy, and money, as you haphazardly search for answers, solutions, or a way out when, in fact, it may already be too late.) GasBuddy’s Historical Price Charts allow you to see the changing dynamics — the ups and downs — of gas prices over time. You can easily customize the price charts by location or multiple locations for comparison purposes, time period (anywhere from 1 month to 6 years), gas price or crude oil price, and price units (U.S. $/G or Canadian c/L). The Historical Price Charts are a great tool for identifying price trends accurately.

    Historical Price Charts Screenshot

    Historical Price Charts Screenshot

  5. Get Gas Prices via Mobile Device — Need to find cheap gas on the go? GasBuddy allows you to locate the nearest, cheapest gas station on your mobile phone. There are three ways to do this. (1) You can use your mobile device’s browser by connecting to the URL GasBuddyToGo.com where you can then search for gas prices. (2) You can receive the five lowest gas or diesel prices from your area by sending a text message or email to gas@gasbuddy.com or diesel@gasbuddy.com, respectively. You must include your city/state or zip/postal code in the body of the message to receive a return response. (3) Using the GasBuddy WHERE widget, you can instantly receive prices, including maps and directions, based on your GPS location from a GPS-enable device. You must first install the WHERE widget, which is a location-based GPS mobile application for finding people, places, and things around you, on your mobile phone. WHERE (a product of uLocate) is available for most major carriers, so getting it on your phone shouldn’t be an issue.
  6. Fuel and Money Saving Tips — The website offers several useful tips on ways you can reduce fuel costs and consumption such as carpooling to work and using the Discover Open Road Card to save 5% on all gas purchases.
  7. Top Ten Fuel Saving Tips — If you’re too busy to read through GasBuddy’s full-text description on different ways to save money on gas, then you can quickly scan through its succinct list of top ten fuel saving tips.
  8. Fuel Logbook (accessible via your local website) — Want some insight into just how much fuel expenses are pinching your wallet? With GasBuddy’s Fuel Logbook feature, you can track fuel expenses for each vehicle that you own. GasBuddy uses the raw data that you input to display detailed records of your average fuel economy, total fuel costs, and total amount of fuel used. These detailed records allow you to analyze fuel cost and consumption statistics so you can identify fuel-efficiency issues sooner, rather than later (e.g., before you go bankrupt). Track the effectiveness of any fuel- and money-saving solutions that you implement by continuing to enter fuel expense data in the Fuel Logbook, and be sure to let GasBuddy know if any of its tips actually help you reduce fuel costs.
  9. Fight High Gas Prices — GasBuddy works because consumers, like you, voluntarily report gas prices so that fellow motorists can identify the cheapest gas stations. “If everyone buys gas at the lower priced stations,” as GasBuddy notes, “it puts pressure on the higher priced stations to lower their gas prices since their sales will decrease. In effect, it makes gas stations more competitive.” To join the fight against high gas prices, you simply register to become a member on the website and report prices in your area via email, text message, or online form.

Parting Thoughts

Obtaining local, real-time, up-to-date gas price information in such a way that enables millions of U.S. and Canadian motorists to pinpoint which of the 100,000′s of gas stations are currently offering the best-priced fuel in a particular area is a feat that — in my opinion — couldn’t be accomplished any other practical way than through GasBuddy’s novel use of crowdsourcing. So if you need to save money at the pump, I strongly recommend using GasBuddy’s website to compare gas station prices in your area. And when you go to fill up, don’t forget to report the price!

Image credit: jwebb / iStockphoto

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Post updates:
- October 19, 2008 at 10:00 AM ET: Added some screenshots of GasBuddy.